Not so fast, college football fans. Pandemic could keep things sidelined

A report from CBS gave a dose of reality to earlier optimism about sports returning this summer.
When will we see crowds like this, at Florida State for the season opener in 2019, return on college football Saturdays?
When will we see crowds like this, at Florida State for the season opener in 2019, return on college football Saturdays? [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Apr. 15, 2020|Updated Apr. 16, 2020

On the same day the nation’s top expert in infectious diseases raised the possibility of returning to sports this summer, another development stressed the unique complications facing college football.

To quote one of the biggest names in the sport: Not so fast, my friend.

The College Football Playoff Management Committee told Vice President Mike Pence in a Wednesday teleconference that college football will not return until college does, according to a report from CBS’ Dennis Dodd.

"Our players are students,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told Dodd. “If we’re not in college, we’re not having contests.”

That comment — echoed by other call participants in interviews with Dodd — isn’t a surprise on its own. The optics of only allowing athletes back on campus would be bad. There are liability factors university administrators must consider, too. As I wrote earlier this month: If it’s too unsafe for 25 students to gather for an English class, how can it be safe enough for 85 scholarship players (plus coaches and support staff) to gather for football practice?

Related: Can football student-athletes return if college students don’t?

It doesn’t help that Dr. Anthony Fauci’s return-to-play outline doesn’t sound conducive to college football. In a Snapchat interview posted Wednesday, Fauci said sports could resume under a few conditions. First, no spectators (which could work at college stadiums, even if programs would make a lot less money). His testing guidelines would be fine in colleges, too, assuming the technology is available.

But the other criteria are much harder, if not impossible, in college sports. How could programs legally keep ultra-tight tabs on their players who, remember, are students and not employees? And how could you confine players from the same conference in the same hotel?

To be clear, this doesn’t mean college sports cannot return this fall/winter/spring. One of the call’s participants even told Dodd he felt positive about how it went.

Instead, consider this a dose of reality for college sports fans. Even if baseball and hockey return this summer, college football might not be ready quite yet.

Related: How the coronavirus pandemic has impacted college football recruiting

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